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using your voice | southwestern pa, photographer | personal

By September 8, 2011 13 Comments

Before the grammar police arrest me, please refer to my disclosure on my homepage 🙂

This is in reference to ” I won’t photograph ugly people”. I know this is a long one…….but I hope it’s worth it!

You now have a voice-use it. You have people’s attention-do something big.

These are the things people  are saying from ALL OVER THE WORLD in their emails to me. Visually you could see my “liker” page go from 2,900 Likes to now well over 20 THOUSAND likes but what you didn’t see were all the emails, phone calls, snail mail letters I received. It was VERY overwhelming and every time I sit down to think about it…..I get that overwhelming feeling all over again. Little old me, in an itty bitty town was being talked about, discussed, CRITICIZED all around the world. It was hard to swollow….and the phone calls from the media were enough to make me run and hide into a hole. There was a point to where I thought-“I wish this would just all go away”-like I was ashamed at all the attention I was getting -like I was doing something wrong. I stepped back and went away with my best friend for the weekend and realized, “Wait a minute, *I* didn’t do anything wrong!” Instead, embraced all the buzz, all the criticism and whether people agreed with my “business decision” or not……it was raising awareness and people are talking about it.

So yes…people are talking about it. Teachers are teaching about me in their classrooms, professors asking permission to share “my story” in their ethics classes. Judges are including my article on their websites about cyber bullying, blog and website administrators have rewrote my story over and over again it was shared on facebook thousands of times. Everyday someone would send me a new link. I’ve been contacted by producers of independent film companies, authors, newspaper reporters, radio hosts, nationally/internationally known and recognized TV shows were contacting me. When I wasn’t answering my phone, they’d call Greg’s phone, when they couldn’t get ahold of him, they’d call my Mom’s phone……pure craziness! I had one nationally recognized show, show up at my house….surprise, I’m a reporter from XYZ and we want to fly you to New York so you can tell your story. I turned them down-Why? Because they needed the names of the girls to “validate” the story. I refused to release the names. After all the buzz is over and the news outlets and everything dies down….I still live here…and so do those girls. I will be eternally grateful that it brought awareness to such a huge topic, but I don’t think the girls needed to be publicly ridiculed….the cycle would just continue. Sure, I was getting some “not so nice” emails, Facebook messages and someone even went as far as to call my family names while commenting under my Facebook photos, but for every “bully” there were a thousand people standing up for me….rallying around my decision.

That voice that everyone keeps telling me I have right now…….honestly, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m not an expert on bullying, heck…..I’m not an expert in any area. We all have that “gut” feeling, the feeling that tells you when something “just isn’t right”-I used mine-that’s ALL. I didn’t invent the wheel, I didn’t do anything revoluntionary….I just said ‘NO, that’s not right and I don’t want any part of it”.

I can tell you what I expected after all this went viral. I expected to get criticism, I expected to get words of encouragement, I expected to get nasty messages, I expected all of that. I did not expect to receive emails from individuals who have been bullied and are still living with the scars, I didn’t expect for little girls to send me emails to tell me I’m their hero and that I have inspired them to stick up for other kids that are being picked out, I didn’t expect to find out that people that are in there 40’s 50’s and 60’s (and beyond) are STILL to this day an emotional wreck because of their childhood bullies. I got an email from a man in his 40’s that recently found out he has cancer and he is now trying to right all of his “wrongs” which includes contacting those whom he bullied to apologize.  I got emails from a women who tells me she thinks of killing herself daily and she is 34…well out of high school. I got emails from parents whose children committed suicide due to the bullying…………..

As I sit here and type this I have new emails in my inbox of individuals sharing their stories. I’m no counselor, I’m not a therapist, I am NOT an expert…….but I do have a heart…and these stories are just heart breaking! So that VOICE everyone keeps telling me I have right now, well I’m using it to give HER a VOICE.

 I am a 55 year old grandmother of 4, free-lance hairstylst (GO FREE-LANCERS OF THE WORLD, YEE-HA!) of 37 years, I was born & raised in ____now live in ___ since 1978.When I was in Jr. High, in 1970, I was bullied, no TORTURED would really be the right word, by 3 girls in the 9th grade, everyday, from the first bell to the last, they NEVER left me alone for a minute!I didn’t even know them, or OF them, till I entered the 7th grade, with the rest of my grammer school friends that I had grown up with and had known my entire life.There was no rhyme or reason to their hatefulness, teachers knew it, priciples, vice and head, they knew it, the parents knew it, EVERYONE knew it, and did NOTHING to stop them, NOT ONE SINGLE WORD WAS SAID IN MY DEFENSE!(except my parents, only to find out THEY could do nothing about it either!:( It was simply IMPOSSIBLE, I was a wreck emotionally, all the time, I was depressed, started failing as a result, where before I had been a straight A/B student.

I cried everyday, even on weekends, (not wanting to leave the sanctuary of my home & parents) I was afraid to do or go ANYWHERE, even with my mother, becuase “THEY” might be there too, THEY TORTURED ME EVERY SINGLE DAY! Name calling, shoving, pushing, knocking me down, books flying everywhere, slaps in the face,threats of violence, acts of violence, DEATH threats, ugliest HEINOUS name calling even a guttersnipe would have cringed! RUINED school for me, lost alot of, if not all, of my OLD freinds who were afraid to stand up to them! They sucked every ounce of GOODNESS that I had ever known, right out of the AIR, away! I used to go to the guidence counselor for help, all she said was they would be gone by the next year, they would be moving on to the High School in another year, then I after the year I was IN then,could BREATHE IN PEACE again.

That is NOT what happened. I was left, by the 8th grade, with what I would call now, a nervous breakdown, in the aftermath, that summer before 8th grade, never went to the town pool, lost all my freinds, my parents had BEEN to the school auhtorites, even the police, with no results what so ever. Those girls were NEVER reprehanded, never once told by ANYONE IN CHARGE-parents & teachers alike, to simply STOP IT! It was mean, hateful, uncalled for, HEINOUS, and worst of all, CONSTANT! I was one lonely, sad little girl, I’ll tell ya that. I have never opened my heart up to anyone till you, as to how bad it was, I lived in fear of my life EVERYDAY, EVERYWHERE I went. there was no couseling, my parents did what they could, by then all self esteem was GONE, any sense of self worth, grades were failing, emotionally I was in tatters, they EXECUTED MY SOUL!

Here I am, 55, and yes, I have recovered over the last 40+ years, but I have NEVER been the same, NEVER! Was always happy & outgoing & an optimist,I had gone thru my life LAUGHING & HAPPY, until them. They left me after stealing it all away, for YEARS I was like that. I covered it well,with HUMOR as my armor, and thought if I don’t ever say a word, then no one else will either. I had ONE best friend all thru Jr. and Senoir High, with a different group all together, and was very happy and glad that I had made a comeback, of sorts, however, the fact is this, I NEVER HAVE BEEN THE SAME AGAIN,it was HOPELESS & thats how I felt inside for YEARS & YEARS! The SUBJECT goes away, even the people did, but the FEELINGS were still there! I have gone thru life with alot of new(back then) freinds, that I am still friends with now, 40 years later! I am well liked, well educated,strong, funny, fast witted,smart,with too many likes and hobbies to even mention! (LOL:) strong & healthy CONFIDENT woman today and have been for years but I DESPISE on a cellular level , all things BULLY!

 I have never 100% gotten over it, found I had a great deal of inner strength that I did not even know I had, and have been very successful, free-lancing now, same as you and for the same reason’s as well. A BULLY IS A BULLY FOREVER! Two of those girls that tortured me went on to THE STATE PENITENUARY-where they belonged in Jr. High school, and are still there. They are doing LONG sentences, for violent crimes, one for murder. So, if anyone says “AH, no big deal, they’re bullies, they’ll go away, the only GOING AWAY they do is PRISON TIME! MURDER was what I was threatened with back then, they even promised to “GET” my parents and DOG & kill them too! They were dangerous then as they are now! BULLYING IS NO JOKE, it is harmful, it is hurtful, it is mean and angry and UGLY as you stated, & it is a never ending horror show for the one being bullied, it took COURAGE to go to school, and to make new friends, to this day I wonder why no one stepped up and said a WORD in my defense,(except my parents, of course!) instead, I was SHUNNED by the same people that had been my lifelong friends up until then!

I went on to graduate, and have a wonderful life, not perfect by any stretch, however, I am on anti-depressants, have been for years, I had NEVER had even ONE depressing moment until the 7th grade, I have been fighting depression and my weight everyday since! Even ruined my HS grades, as I had missed so much while living in FEAR, trying to just get from one class to another was exscrutiating, never mind GRADES! BTW, this all took place in an all white, VERY WEALTHY town, there was NO CRIME, right outside of _______.  

I saved the best part for last, at least the most interesting for me anyways, the girl who didn’t go to prison was killed by ANOTHER WOMAN, who she had been doing the exact same thing too, 20 years later, in her later adult life, a neighbor in fact, in a very upper class, high income town as well, her throat was cut so hard and deep,  almost decapitation, the woman who did the crime was LET GO after a year of waiting to go to trial and tell her story, she was let go for JUSTIFIABLE HOMICIDE!!!!! Somebody finally stood up to her and decided to FORCE HER AT KNIFEPOINT TO SHUT her filthy, degrading mouth, for once & for all!!

Hostility & anger and meanness DO NOT GO AWAY, they get WORSE is all, you stood up & were HEARD AROUND THE WORLD! I say good for you, maybe now someone will step up in a power position and actual DO SOMETHING. It’s too late to help me, but there are thousands upon thousands that suffer with this plain out & out CRUELITY every second of every day, thank God you stood up for yourself and WHAT IS RIGHT & GOOD! I was very young (12-13) that year it happned to me, but the aftermath was the rest of my public school life, they were gone,along with my self esteem, but so were my friends! RIGHT THIS MINUTE someone, somewhere is being BULLIED or BATTERED by someone they know or maybe do NOT know, but the fact that you ACTED, not reacted but ACTED IMMEDIATELY says what a wonderful , strong person you are.  

Thank you for listening, & also on the behalf of ALL people who have been bullied, literally, almost to DEATH, I thank and commend you, you’ll be in my daily prayers! STAY STRONG! I admire you greatly.

It was about right then…..I started sobbing…HARD. I handled all the mean and hurtful things people said about me in both the media, on their blogs, on facebook, on MY blog…but emails like this broke me down. This is just an example of the emails I receive… breaks my heart!  So for those of you who keep asking….”would I have done things differently?” NO!!! You’re talking about it aren’t you?  Use YOUR VOICE-speak up……….Mean is ugly-be BEAUTIFUL!!


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  • Don’t doubt what you did! You did the right thing. Obviously this woman knows first hand that you did the right thing and wouldn’t it have been nice if someone had stuck up for her! We are the adults and we are responsible for being the examples! I don’t know you but I am really proud of you and what you did. It took guts and sometimes….most times…doing the right thing isn’t the easiet thing to do but you know it was the right thing to do! It’s easy to just let things “slide” and go with the status quo…what you did (and why we all admire it and thank you for it) is stand for something and we need MORE people like you!

  • Susie R. says:


    And if those girls are reading this- if there’s a piece of them that regrets their behavior, that was just going along with the crowd, that knows it was wrong and that wants to be beautiful too…

    It’s not too late. It’s never too late. You can make a difference. You can be different. You can step forward at any time and say, “that was wrong and I’m sorry and I’m not going to act like that anymore.” You can be beautiful.

    It doesn’t need to be a big public production. It doesn’t require telling off your friends in a hallway showdown. I doesn’t have to be anything huge and showy. Just say you’re sorry to the person you hurt and stop. Just be better next time. Just be beautiful.

  • Amanda says:

    Please do not ever doubt yourself again. I’m afraid to have children because of the potential of bullying! Can you believe that? I’m years from having a child and I already fear for him/her! There are times I really wish I had stood up to someone for what they said. Maybe one day I can.

  • stacey says:

    there’s a great quote – and i can’t remember who said it but it is:

    “be the change you wish to see in the world”

    which is what you have done. know that you have set a great example to your daughter both by the initial refusal and your subsequent denial of name release. ethics at it’s best. kudos to your parents for raising such an intelligent person – may we all be so fortunate with our kids 🙂

  • Melissa Kienast says:


  • Lori Desmarais says:

    I’m bawling my eyes out right now after reading that womans letter. I can barely see to type. She accuratly painted a VERY GOOD picture of what it’s like. I am 50 and I too was bullied my entire time in school. If you where “not” bullied and are not “moved” by what she wrote…then I’m sorry for you. One thing I think should be added is…I think a lot of us who have been bullied want to tell our story and be heard. We don’t want to be “alone” with the painful memories anymore. It has been hard for me to tell people though because I was afraid that it would show weakness and maybe I would bump into someone who once was a bully and it would start over. God Bless You Jen!! Thanks for making this happen!!

  • wendy says:

    You are an amazing role model and a wonderful example of how we should all behave. Your right,you didn’t do anything new,but you did do what is right. Embrace that and be proud of what you have done.

  • Maureen says:

    Oh my gosh, you are just incredible. So inspirational. You remind me of my best friend of 26 years.. we are each others chicken soup for the soul! Stay cool!

  • Susan says:

    I suffered a horrible year in high school with a girl in my gym class. She’d torture me daily, yelling that I was fat (she was bigger). To top it off we had these gym outfits that were too snug and that made it all the worse. As the months rolled on I refused to dress out so much. I guess if I had to tolerate it I wanted to do it without that gym outfit on making me feel worse.

    I’m completely over this now and have gone on to have a remarkable life considering I had the self-esteem of a bug at that point. However, my point? To this day I do believe I have never forgiven those gym teachers that allowed this. They knew I was tortured. They could have cared less. Occasionally they’d yell “now Tonya.” That was it.

    Then they tried to fail me in PE because I didn’t dress out. This is when I became convinced life was just cruel. I could not win.

    These teachers were the cheerleading coaches. Usually they’d hang during class cutting up with those cheerleaders. One day Tonya tried to kill me throwing a deodorant can at me in the locker room. They got a bit fussier then. However the day Tonya made the mistake of stealing a ring off of one of the cheerleaders all hell broke lose. It seems that was not acceptable. Tonya didn’t come back to class after that.

    Kids will be cruel. No it’s NOT a right of passage. Mostly though? It’s ridiculous of adults to allow this to go on. There is simply no excuse. Every child should be able to go to school without fear of this daily. I graduated from HS over 30 years ago. I’ve completely forgiven Tonya, but will never get over those teachers adding to it all. In my opinion they were the adults in charge, and they were entirely worse than Tonya.

  • Cyndi Williams says:

    Jenn, printing that email from the woman who was literally tortured will hopefully tell the world in detail why it is so important to stand up for what is right. It couldn’t be any clearer… unfortunately there are those who will continue to give excuses to bad behavior. I went back to read the responses to your posting and was appalled by some of the things people said. What was interesting is that many of the negative responses said, “Not a big deal; everyone does it.” The problem they face is that by accusing everyone of behaving in that manner, they are really trying to validate their own behavior as ‘normal’. Sad really that they do not have the ability to see their own actions as destructive and won’t until they receive extensive therapy. Until then, the lies they tell themselves will continue to be self-serving.

  • Chris says:

    Hi Jen,

    just gonna add another little drop to the support you’re getting. I know you never intended this to blow up like it has, but then, funny what happens when you do the right thing, huh? So thanks for choosing to make the world a slightly better place, and then making a difference by accident. 🙂

    Also, I guess there must be an element of wishing that 20,000 people would like your page for your work, and not just for the media hype. Can I just say, for whatever it’s worth, that I found you through the hype, like so many people, but one of the upshots of following you on Facebook now is seeing your photography. Your shots really are lovely, and I’m glad that I get to see them, as well as hear your inspiring story.

    Take care, stand strong, and shoot often. 🙂

  • Jules says:

    Kudos Jen! Way to follow your gut instinct! I know I couldn’t photograph the girls knowing what little snots they were. It’s amazing what beast of a whirlwind you’ve been in since you made up your mind. I read about this from a little news blurb on After bullying (and other issues) from public school, I finally pulled my daughter out of the mire there and she is in her second year of a homeschool co-op. She is herself again! Anyway, blessings to you. And feel great for standing for what is right!

  • Sarah says:

    Jen, you are a rock star for catapulting bullying into the spotlight, even for the usual “15 minutes”.

    My daughter was bullied from first grade in the small rural town we had moved near. We weren’t “local” because 3 generations hadn’t graduated from the same high school. You can’t make this stuff up. The prettiest girls in the class picture were always the meanest, and my kid was the tallest and biggest (and plump…”The baker wants his rolls back, ______). As my grandmother said of me, a “late bloomer”. Happily, after being thoroughly average and ignored, I had gone on to classic looks, a great life and still enjoy better looks than the cheerleaders to this day at reunions (40+ and counting..yes, a bit of a meow :-). I could assure her that early bloomers go down hard, which I did continually. And go down hard…they do. Almost always, especially in the small towns that breed the biggest bullies.

    These days my daughter looks like a sane Barbie, on the dean’s list, pursuing a medical career. So goes also her scrawny, gangly geeky cohort, but with a modeling career on the side. Most of the bullies are muffin-topper single mothers with no education, on food stamps and hating Obama. But at the time…they drove my daughter to a suicide attempt and a 2 week stay in a psych facility 6 years ago. She won’t be attending her reunions, which is a sad part of bullying. No fond memories to revisit.

    Kudos, too, for taking the high road and not naming the girls. Sooner or later her peers will, because that’s just how they roll. But YOU took the high road, start to finish. All best.

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